Climate Change: Fact-checking the GOP's climate conference agenda


Days before President Donald Trump signed an executive order rolling back his predecessor's pro-environment initiatives, several of his advisors, transition team members and mega-donors attended a two-day conference for climate change skeptics.

The International Conference on Climate Change, put on by the climate change-denying Heartland Institute, ran March 23-24 in Washington. It featured panels promoting fossil fuels, including one that posited there would be "chaos and mass starvation" without them. 

Trump's Environmental Protection Agency transition head Myron Ebell and Trump mega-donors Robert and Rebekah Mercer were in attendance.

It's time for "good science, rather than politically correct science," Republican Rep. Lamar Smith, chairman of the House science committee, said during his keynote address March 23. 

That "good science" was difficult to find at the two day conference.

From claims that Communists are to blame for consensus on climate change to accusations that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who previously headed ExxonMobil, is part of the "resistance," the conference served up plenty of "alternative facts" that are easily debunked.

But what about the central conceit of the Heartland conference — that fossil fuels and higher levels of carbon dioxide are actually good for us and the environment? 

Let's do some fact-checking.

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No, high levels of carbon dioxide are not good for the environment.

Carbon dioxide is a natural part of our atmosphere. But through the burning of fossil fuels and other human activity, we have pumped massive amounts of the greenhouse gas into the Earth's atmosphere, trapping in heat and causing the Earth to warm at an alarming rate. 

The amount of CO2 in our atmosphere has dramatically increased over the past two years in a "real shock to the atmosphere," Scientific American reports. Nevertheless, the Trump administration has dismissed scientists' concerns about climate change.

Scott Pruitt, administrator of the EPA and climate change denier, recently expressed skepticism that CO2 is the primary driver of global warming. 

"I think that measuring with precision human activity on the climate is something very challenging to do and there's tremendous disagreement about the degree of impact, so no, I would not agree that it's a primary contributor to the global warming that we see," Pruitt said. 

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No, increased CO2 levels aren't good for us.

At the conference, Craig Idso, chairman of the Center for the Study of Carbon Dioxide and Global Change, claimed that global warming is necessary to feeding the world's population.

"It will be next to impossible to meet the challenge of feeding Earth's population without a rise in the Earth's temperature," Idso said, according to the Washington Post. "CO2 is not a pollutant. It is the very elixir of life."

But as Scientific American points out, CO2 is not only a pollutant — it is the worst one, because it lingers longer in the atmosphere than other greenhouse gases. 

Further, it's unclear exactly how climate change would help feed the world and create the "world peace," as that session promised. 

While a warmer world may indeed lengthen some growing seasons, climate change will almost certainly have a significant deleterious impact on crops: Yields are expected to drop, insect and crop disease outbreaks are expected to spike and those longer growing seasons may use up more water. Wheat is already imperiled by rising temperatures, according to the Washington Post, posing a major threat to the global food supply.

But the claims that climate change isn't real, or that it is somehow a good thing, prevailed at the International Conference on Climate Change — and will, Heartland Institute President Joseph Blast said, in the White House.

"Most scientists don't believe climate change is mostly man-made and dangerous. Most of the public don't believe it, either," Blast stated, falsely. A majority of Americans — and a consensus of scientists — believe in climate change.

"Now, we have a president who doesn't believe it."